Cinders and the Saddest Toy Cat

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An early drawing of Cinders.

Once upon a time, many years ago, a newly 10 year old me got a kitten for my birthday and named him Cinders. I’d actually been visiting him for several weeks–his mother belonged to neighbors–and the whole period was thrilling. Overwhelming. So I did what I always do when overwhelmed and overexcited: I blogged about it.

OK, no. This was in premordial soup days, long before blogs. Instead, I did what people did back then, and what I still do much of the time nowadays: I wrote it down on paper. Mom gave me a notebook and I started a logbook about Cinders, recording dates and times and his weight and length and my impressions of everything all along the way.

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Neutering and death dates, too? OK, kid, you’re weird.
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A sample page.

Transcription of the above: Oct 16, 1986  When kittens are little (10 days to 6 weeks) their eyes are a milky blue color. Then they turn to the color they will be when they are an adult. Cinders is 6 weeks old. His eyes are yellow. Tomorrow he is coming to live at my house. I have everything ready. I bought him a brush, I bought him food and food and water bowls, I made him a bed, and I got him used to me. Everything is ready…

There weren’t cell phone cameras to upload pictures to Facebook and Instagram, so I drew him over and over again, memorizing every spot and splotch of his little black and white tailless self. (His mother also had no more than a powder puff of a tail, and the same went for many of his siblings. I don’t know if there was a Manx in his background or just an off genetic mutation, but there are still a handful of true-breeding near-tailless cats in the region where I grew up, along with polydactyl cats.)

He was an interesting guy. Followed me like a dog. Slept on my bed at night. And, as Mom wrote in this guest post…er, note, he had a pretty definite schedule.

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Transcription: Guest Notes 1/12/87  Cinders spend several hours last night playing with a tangle of pipecleaners. He seems to have developed a regular routine of sleep and play. In midmorning he always wrestles a stuffed gray cat with blue eyes. It’s quite a sight.   Mom

He thoroughly enjoyed beating the crap out of this little guy.

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This was, in a way, my first cat, from when I was really little. When Cinders came along, he decided it was his buddy. When I eventually moved away from home, he–now rahther the worse for wear–came along. I’d all but forgotten about him, but when I got the current kittens, one of them found the sad little grey fluff in the back of a drawer and gleefully yanked him out. They’ve been dragging him all around the house ever since. I’ll find him on the bed, or by the couch, or abandoned as they dash for the door to greet me.

He’s deeeeefinitely seen better days, to say the least. Not only has he been clobbered by at least three unkind kittens over a nearly thirty year period, he’s been washed and dried none too gently. His whiskers are…erratic. But in velveteen rabbit terms, he’s approaching reality. He has been loved hard. And I can’t help feeling like Mom is watching these new kittens and smiling. Who knows, maybe Cinders is, too.

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Mini-Reviews: Apica CD15 Notebook + Kokuyo Systemic Semi-B5 Notebook Cover

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I’ve gotten back in the habit of sitting down to write two to three longhand pages in the mornings–call it “morning pages,” call it plain journaling, call it what you will. If nothing else, it gives me a place to play with fountain pens and ink. Also a place to figure out next life steps, lament, and record those dreams that were a little too weird to blather about on social media, but which I can’t help wanting to tell *someone* about.

I picked up a B5-ish sized Apica notebook (CD15) at a college bookstore last February, and have been using that for almost the last month. I really like this format and this paper. It’s just about composition book sized (my long time favorite) at 7 x 10 inches, but it’s more or less college ruled, and only 68 pages (counting front and back), which makes it thin and light and easy to carry around. The binding is stitched and sturdy. It has a nice little spot in the corner of each page for recording date and page number. And, unlike many composition books, the paper is super: very smooth, though not quite so slickery as, say, Clairefontaine (which makes it a bit nicer for pencils IMO) and I haven’t had any issues with fountain pen inks bleeding through. Inks *do* take a bit longer to dry than on really lousy/absorbent paper, and the paper is thin enough you can kind of see darker inks on the next page if you squint, but both issues are minimal.

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The cardstock cover proved far more durable than I expected. I figured a few days in my bag would do it in, but, floppy though it is, it actually holds up quite well. 20160921_125133

Still, just because, I recently picked up a Kokoyu Systemic Semi-B5 cover.

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It holds two of these little guys, which means I can have my present and my previous notebooks, or one for journaling and one for fiction, or what-have-you.

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Nice little ribbon bookmarks for each notebook, at least until the kittens destroy them–they *love* these! The ribbon is tied on, and hence replaceable, which may be a good feature in my household. An elastic band holds the whole thing closed in my bag. It’s not a hard cover–you wouldn’t really want to write in your lap unless you had to, but it does add enough stiffness to make it possible in a pinch.

20160921_125025There are little plastic flaps on each side to slide in one cover of the notebook, and it holds them securely. The cover material is nylon canvas–feels a bit like the Timbuk2 cover I had for my Kindle–and I think it will hold up for quite awhile.

So…for the moment, this is my daily notebook solution. As anyone who’s been around me can attest, this can change at any moment.  But right now…this is working well! I’ve been waiting and waiting for someone to start making great quality hard-cover B5 notebooks that don’t cost an arm and a leg, but actually, this notebook/cover solution may be even better for my purposes.

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It’s a Jungle Out There

Feeling like I accomplished nothing today just because I didn’t manage to do The One Thing (in this case, mowing the lawn), so here’s a list of what I *did* manage.
  • Went to Jay’s Farmstand and bought a BOATLOAD of vegetables and herbs and that: onions, carrots, celery, peppers, bok choy, cabbage, bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, limes, apples, spaghetti squash.
  • Went to Trader Joe’s for eggs and coffee and assorted ingredients. On a Saturday. (But it was early and no one tried to run me over in the not-big-enough parking lot, so yay!)
  • Made beef pho broth, more or less, starting with blanching and roasting the bones and charring onions and ginger. Did the actually cooking in my Instant Pot. By the time it was done, I was too tired to deal with actually cutting up herbs and all that for pho, so that’s tomorrow’s fancy meal.
  • Walked a lot, including to Wal-Mart for pho noodles. (I’d thought about using the spaghetti squash, but it’s going to be for another meal.) More than 5 miles. Slightly annoying side anecdote: they’ve switched to reusable bags here, or you can purchase a paper bag when you check out. Some stores have smaller paper bags you can have for free, but I always forget which ones. So at Wal-Mart I made my purchase, went to grab one of the little free bags to shuttle things home, and discovered they don’t have them. So I had to trudge several miles home openly carrying a box of rice noodles and a giant bottle of baby shampoo, and got more than a few bemused looks along the way. Yeah, staring people, go on and make up a story about me in your head. You know you want to.
  • Cooked the spaghetti squash, so I have it done. (I’m going to make a chicken/basil/tomato saucey thing to go over the “pasta.”
  • Made brownies to use up some almond flour–the plan is to freeze individually for those times when MUST HAVE SWEET. They are relatively OK brownies as brownies go. Ish.
But the lawn still needs mowed. Sigh.

One Bucket at a Time

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I am so overwhelmed this week.

Work has been a series of problems I can’t solve. I can’t seem to concentrate long enough to get the house organized. My car needs an oil change. I have a stupid milestone of a birthday next month, and even if it doesn’t really mean I’ll be a different person, it feels like some doors I’ve been hoping to open for ages will be locked to me forever. Winter is coming, and I’m pretty sure some of the paint on the house wouldn’t make it through, so I had to face a fear and contact a contractor to come give me a quote, and now I’m scared it will cost more than I can manage and I’ll a) have wasted his time and b) have to start the search all over, or else spend all winter fretting about the house. My lawn needs mowed, even if it’s nothing but weeds. My bushes and trees need trimmed. And on top of everything else, there’s this:

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I have two apple trees in my back yard. This is one.

I had good intentions back in, oh, April. I was going to stay on top of everything in the yard this year. I’d mow and weedwhack and weed and pick up every apple as it fell, if I didn’t just pick them first and can or freeze bushels of something or other.

Yeah, nope.

So here I am. I walked out there this evening with my bucket, took a look, and almost just sat down in the dirt and cried. It’s endless. How am I ever going to pick up all those apples?

But then I took a deep breath, maybe said a quick prayer to St. Francis de Sales, who in my book is the patron saint of “it’ll be OK,” and I set down my bucket. One bucket, I told myself. Don’t look at the acre of apples to be gathered. Concentrate on picking up a few apples at a time, concentrate on filling just this one bucket. Don’t think beyond the bucket just now.

One bucket at a time, I carried apples to my yard waste bin. And then I took my obnoxiously optimistic big orange bucket out front and at least started on the weeds, a bucket at a time. I didn’t finish tonight. But that’s OK. I can take my bucket back out there tomorrow. And the next day.

It’s a good reflection to apply to the rest of my life, too. I have many tasks to accomplish, and I tend to get so caught up in the big picture–all those apples!–that I figuratively sit down in the dirt, overwhelmed. But I don’t have to do it all this instant. I just have to concentrate on one little piece at a time. Just keep filling my bucket.

I’ll finish off with such a perfect quote! After writing the above and after my prayer to him, I went searching for some of St. Francis de Sales’s comforting words, and this is what I turned up almost immediately. I think someone thought I needed a double dose of this message!

 . . Undertake then all your affairs with a calm and peaceable mind, and endeavor to despatch them in order, one after another-for if you make an effort to do them all at once or in disorder, your spirit will be so overcharged and depressed that it will probably sink under the burden without effecting anything. 
– St. Francis de Sales, from Introduction to the Devout Life, Chapter X

My Perfect Coffee Shop

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Actually my desk at home, but it was my only coffee picture…

This may be just about the most first world of first world musing, but I got to thinking about what I’d want in My Perfect Coffee Shop, and I wrote a thing. Here you go. Here are the things I want:

SOFT, BLAND LIGHTING

Have you ever seen that episode of the X-Files where there’s a guy whose shadow kills people, so he spends all his time skulking around places like train stations, where there is soft, shadow-less lighting? That’s the kind of lighting I want in my hypothetical coffee shop. Shadows are evil menaces when it comes to writing by hand.

Once upon a time, “my” coffee shop had this sort of lighting. It was a little more clinical/industrial, maybe, but I COULD SEE. And I could write without weird crisscrossing shadows making me want to punch things.

Then the place got hipsterized and they added trendy drop lighting: half a dozen single bulbs suspended throughout the room, depositing little pools of random light, and making weird shadows of any objects passing in front of them–objects like, say, my head, my hand, anyone walking by.

The lights may look kind of cool when you first walk in, but they are miserable instruments of torture. I hates them. I make do, shuffling around from seat to seat until I find the least obnoxious angle, but I hates them.

MUSIC

This is where I’m likely to sound like the Knights Who Say “Ni” and their shrubbery request. “Music that sounds nice…but not too much. And not the wrong sort.”

Background music is necessary, in my opinion, to sort of fill the empty spaces in the room, softly pad things out. Usually there is some sort of Pandora mix playing in the background at “my” coffee shop, and that’s good. If the playback stops, I feel exposed, like curtains have unceremoniously been yanked aside, leaving me out on a stage with no backup, no costume, and no prepared lines.

On the other hand, I don’t like to listen with headphones in a public place like that, because it makes me feel like I’m wearing aural blinders, and I feel vulnerable.

So I like places that play music. This place is nice in that most of what it plays is sort of angsty folk rock–easy on the ears, interesting but not so much that it’s distracting. Sometimes they also play older swing vocals, like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, or very elderly pop.

All of that works. Once in awhile someone decides to switch it to something peppier or turns it up too loud, and it’s as if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair–there’s just no way to ignore it, and it becomes more and more unbearable as time goes on, until I flee to work early to get away.

PEOPLE

Let’s face it: one of my primary reasons to go to coffee shops is because I want to be not-alone, but still pretty much left alone. Coffee shops are like bars for introverted morning people.

It’s nice when the baristas make some effort to say good morning and make conversation. Yes, I will mumble and blush and not know what to say, but still, a tip of the mug to the people who have to be cheerful and coherent with people who have not yet had their own coffee!

I don’t like to be the only one there besides the baristas. It’s the wrong ratio. It’s like being the only kid at a grown-up party, where everyone sort of awkwardly bends over backwards to make you comfortable and only accomplishes the exact opposite.

Ideal is if there are a handful of other people sitting having quiet conversations around me, but not crowds, and not constant turnover. Crowds are claustrophobic, and every time someone walks behind me, I feel like I should cover my work.

Regulars are cool. Even regulars who just get their coffee and go. It’s like watching a show or book in slow motion, day by day, learning names and stories.

  • The super bubbly gal who just moved here from Montana and who has a new hiking tale every Monday.
  • The retired professor who is still finishing what will be just about the only book on his favorite esoteric subject.
  • The overly enthusiastic young car salesman who is all too obviously using his pitch techniques on the newly married young barista whose ancient car barely lives day to day–he is amused but no more, and those of us who live for the Adventures of Rusty Lemon are secretly relieved.
  • The three women who stop in every Wednesday, seemingly just to talk about the exciting times of a mysterious fourth friend, who is never present.

A few of them know my name. Most don’t. I wonder sometimes just who *I* am in their table of regulars.

COFFEE

Oh, yeah, almost forgot about this, didn’t I? Good coffee is…well, good. I’ve been through some pretty extreme coffee snob phases in my day, and I’ve owned pretty much every cheap-ish coffee brewing mechanism known to man: French press, Aeropress, Melita cone, moka pot, Clever Coffee Dripper (my current main squeeze). That said, at this stage of my life, I’m less demanding. Also, I’m cheap. Hence, I usually get drip. I like it strong and tasting like coffee and not half-drowned cigarettes and sorrow. You’ve all had *that* sort of gas station coffee, right? A splash of real cream or half-and-half, please.

And for those times when I splurge on a latte or mocha, a teensy bit of latte art will make you my favorite forever. Maybe it’s shallow, but I love it when food is pretty. Along the same sort of lines, real ceramic cups > serving even “for here” orders in paper cups.

FOOD

I don’t usually buy food at a coffee shop, but the option is important. Sometimes, especially *after* writing a gazillion words, you need a cookie. Or a chocolate croissant. Or a breakfast burrito. My favorite places either bake their own treats from scratch, or else get them fresh every morning from local bakeries. Hard work deserves a fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie, not a nasty road-weary cookie.

So…there you have it! What did I miss?

New Blog, Kitten Update

So…I’ve more or less combined all my blogs into this one, and this shall be me. See About for more details on the name and that.

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The kittens are six and a half months old now, and continue to enchant me.2016-07-29 17.46.22

Cassia loves to fetch, and also spends a lot of her time riding around on my shoulders as I cook or clean, watching whatever I do and occasionally dismounting to insert a curious paw.Cassia 2016-08-04 18.43.07

She steals all sorts of things to play with or squirrel away. She is fiesty, sure of herself, and utterly adorable. I have *almost* recovered all the computer keys she scattered one memorable night awhile back…2016-07-24 10.59.32

Timo is a love-bug who will jump into my arms, wrapping paws around my neck (no claws!) like a tiny Tigger. Not so tiny, really. He’s up to about 8.5 lbs. these days. Burly guy–and maybe a bit of a pudge. The boy loves his food. He’s a gorgeous sweetie.Timo 8-28-16

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Very different personalities. As I posted on Facebook, Timo is kind of like a small child who wants to be held and fed all the time, and who enjoys pushing objects off tables.Timo Aug 2016

Cassia is like that one roommate who borrows your clothes without asking and takes over whatever you’re doing and is up making mysterious noises at all hours of the night and butts into every conversation, but you put up with them because they’re fascinatingly crazy, so you just never know what’s gonna happen next, and let’s face it, it keeps life interesting.Cassia 2016-08-08 18.28.31

Halvah…puts up with them. I doubt we’ll ever get much further than that. She’ll eat out of a bowl near them, or occasionally sleep on the same couch, but screams if they get too close. And I do mean screams. She’s always been very vocal in her disapprovals. Sometimes I worry the neighbors are gonna call the cops on us.

The kittens mostly leave her alone, but occasionally they push their luck.  Not touching! Not quite touching!2016-07-24 14.04.10